Recipe: Online Research

I’m helping a bunch of kids with a project on the Oregon Trail (history not computer game), and I’ve been reading about Conestoga wagons, wagon trains, 1843, the Hudsons’ Bay Company, and 54*40′ or fight. But after I’d done the same process five or six times with different kids and had em arrive at good information, and a multifaceted picture of the well-trod trail and its era, I realized I had a general recipe for online research.

So now, I’m going to tell students that when I say, “search your subject online”, this is what I mean:

  1. Create a new file on your computer to be the bibliography. Put in nine section headers: Search Terms, Images and Maps, Wikipedia, Museums & Societies, Audio, Video, Websites, Primary Texts, Contacts
  2. Make a list of 5-15 keywords to use as search terms on Google or other tool. Include people, places and things in your list. Keep expanding this list as you learn more. This “Search Terms” entry should be section one of your bibliography.
  3. Use Google image search to assemble a portfolio of 10-30 photographs, maps and diagrams of your subject. The URLs of these photos should be section two of your bibliography
  4. Read 3-5 Wikipedia articles related to your subject. The URLs for these will go in section three of your bibliography. New search terms will go in section one of your bibliography.  The reading will serve as a guideline for future information. Learn the names of at least three people, three primary sources, or three place names associated with your topic; add them to your search terms section, and search them.
  5. Find the websites of 3-5 museums or historical societies with relevant material. Try searching for “(place name) historical society”. Make these URLs section four of your bibliography.
  6. Use your search terms to find relevant material on iTunes U and in the iTunes podcasts sections. List author and podcast series title in section five of your bibliography.
  7. Check YouTube for relevant videos using your search terms. Watch the three best videos. The URLs will go in section six of your bibliography.
  8. Using your expanded search terms list, find ten websites for section seven of your bibliography. Give preference to college and university websites, but pay attention to talented amateurs too. Read 4-5 sites thoroughly after you choose them; skim the others for new information and read selectively.
  9. Using the names of books or primary source authors or historical figures associated with your topic, try to locate the texts of three to five primary sources for your subject. Put the relevant URLs in section eight of your bibliography.
  10. Based on your reading, locate the email address or other contact information for 1-3 experts who manage or maintain or created the websites. Put this in the last section of your bibliography. These are people you will approach (cautiously!) with questions or concerns if you get stuck.

That’s it.  It’s working out for me and my kids at the moment.  Hope it helps you all.

Liked it? Take a second to support Andrew on Patreon!


  1. Great idea. I love the recipe concept. I would like to share this with my faculties as I go around and do PD in our district. I want a recipe card for lots of things now 🙂

  2. Andrew, you might want to spell check that last reply! I laughed out loud when I read it — damn you, iPhone and your spell check!

  3. Have you taped out the dimensions of wagon on the floor yet? Easy, low-tech, and meaningful! Bring in a bunch of stuff and have the kids try “pack” their wagon and fit in it to see what it was like 🙂

Leave a Reply to Brandi Caldwell Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.